The Yankees’ third-baseman-turned-designated-hitter Alexander Rodriguez has been in the news; last night, he hit his 660th home run. That ties him with Willie Mays for fourth place on the all-time home-run list.
Even if you don’t follow baseball, you’ve probably heard of Alexander Rodriguez; “A-Rod,” as he is ubiquitously known, is statistically one of the best players in the history of baseball. He’s had the highest batting average in the American League once, batted in the most runs twice, and hit the most home runs five times. He’s been named the American League’s Most Valuable Player three times, its best hitter four times, and the best hitter at his position ten times. He’s been named to the All-Star team 14 times. He already ranks fifth all-time on the lists of most runs batted in and home runs. Statistically speaking, when he retires, he should be a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame.
However, he will (almost certainly) not make it into the Hall of Fame, because — as you’ve probably heard, even if you don’t follow baseball — he’s spent a decade at the center of Major League Baseball’s steroid scandals. To make a long story short, he (apparently) took “performance-enhancing drugs,” lied about it repeatedly, and was eventually sentenced to a suspension from baseball lasting 211 games — the longest suspension in the history of the Majors. (He appealed the decision; during his appeal he was allowed to keep playing. In the end, his suspension lasted 162 games — the entire 2014 baseball season.)
One other thing you might know about A-Rod, even if you don’t follow baseball: In December of 2000, he signed the most valuable contract in the history of sports: $252 million, over ten years, to play for the Texas Rangers. In 2003, the Rangers traded A-Rod and (much of) his contract to the Yankees; after the 2007 season, he opted out of the last three years of the biggest contract in sports history — and signed an even-bigger biggest contract in sports history: For ten years, the Yankees would pay him $275 million (that is, $100 million more than the annual GDP of the Marshall Islands).
To sweeten the deal, the Yankees included a provision that, should Rodriguez pass Willie Mays on the all-time home-run list, he would get a $6 million bonus. Fresh, after his year-long mandatory vacation, A-Rod has already hit six home runs this season, bringing him to within one swing of that bonus. But the Yankees say they’re not going to pay. The bonus — say the Yankees — was meant to be part of a marketing plan, which A-Rod has rendered worthless by making everyone hate him.
When the Yankees refuse to pay, A-Rod and the players’ union will file a grievance, which will be arbitrated by Major League Baseball. MLB will decide if A-Rod’s past behavior warrants financial retribution from the Yankees. A-Rod will say he has already been punished.
Of course, his punishment — even though it broke records for length — was trivial. A hiccup in his career. Losing $6 million would also, presumably, be trivial to A-Rod — according to Baseball-Reference, over the course of his career, A-Rod has earned $378,285,104 (which is almost $100 million more than the annual GDPs of Palau and Tuvalu combined). I would like to propose something different.
When a player fails a test for steroids — as about 100 MLB players have since 2005, when testing began — he should be punished in a way that actually constitutes punishment. For some of the small fry, games and money are plenty. But guys like Alexander Rodriguez — and, for instance, Miguel Tejada and Ryan Braun, who were both named Most Valuable Player before being exposed and suspended — guys like that ought to be stripped of their past records. Their MVP awards, Golden Gloves, Silver Slugger statues and so forth should be revoked, and their accumulated totals should be reset to zero. After his suspension, A-Rod’s 654 accumulated home runs should have been erased from the record books. Major League Baseball should declare them suspect and, therefore, invalid. Why should Babe Ruth and Willie Mays be usurped by cheaters?
A real punishment would be making A-Rod’s career home-run total six.